We all lose when exams are dumbed down E-mail
Anthony is a New York Police Department (NYPD) detective who has been awarded the police combat cross and NYPD Purple Heart medal. Carol is an NYPD sergeant who scored a 97 on the NYPD sergeant's exam. Bill and Gerry are members of a law enforcement agency in Suffolk County which sends its recruits to the Suffolk Police Academy. Bill and Gerry were the valedictorian and salutatorian of their Suffolk Police Academy class, ranking higher than the score of Suffolk police officers in the class. Ed won the Governor’s Award for exceptional bravery in a rescue.

Dan and Pete have been named "Police Officers of the Year" in the last two years in their respective jurisdictions. What these officers from other jurisdictions have in common is that the most recent Suffolk Police "selection device" "predicts" that they would not be good Suffolk officers. They received scores of 70 to 80 in the selection device. That’s right. Selection device. Not a test with correct answers, but a survey of attitudes, interests, and self- appraisals. In court proceedings over the next few weeks, a court may or may not review the quasi-science used by a private company to come to these findings. If form holds, the resources of government will work overtime to call Anthony, Carol, Bill Gerry, Ed, Dan and Pete sore losers. The truth is that cognitive questions beyond the second grade level were not used so as not to have a "disparate impact" on minority applicants.

The county will look to convince the court, as Nassau County did, that a second grade reading level is sufficient for a police officer. If form holds, the courts will indicate that social engineering and the complexion of the police force is the overriding concern in police hiring for suburban police departments.In the interests of public safety, hiring should be stopped and the test regraded using the cognitive questions in full.The county is actually gifting competitive test positions to unqualified people in violation of the state constitution. But the courts, up to now, have shown that they do not care to enforce any quality control. They have winked at the quasi-science behind these selection devices. Why? Perhaps they agree with the social goal. Perhaps they are afraid of being seen as racist. Perhaps they should have considered that the citizens, have shown by their silence that they don’t care about unqualified individuals being entrusted with the public safety.

Why is it that when school teachers in New York City fix test results, they are disciplined, but when suburban governments do it, citizens and courts ignore the truth? For example, should a police applicant be able to recall information from a crime scene diagram displayed to him or her for five minutes? Do you think that might be relevant to the duties of a police officer? Of course it is. Yet Suffolk County will fight against grading a test for police officers using that type of question. That kind of thinking will make all of us victims. Straightforward general mental ability tests plus a work sample test have a validity of 63 percent in predicting job performance. The quasi-science selection questionnaires used by Suffolk County have claimed validities of 20 percent in predicting job performance. As a Justice Department expert testified in the Nassau County case "We don’t get correlation in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. We never find that. So let’s be realistic about what we have and we don’t have."

When Washington, D.C. hired for its police force without concern for competence, half of the major felony cases were dropped for improper and negligent processing of evidence and information. In the initial processing of individuals who were graded the highest (scores of 95 to 105) on this selection device, up to nine of 10 have failed to pass through the most basic initial processing. They were individuals unsuited by physical condition, mental acuity or inclination to be Suffolk Police Academy trainees.

What type of predictive device is it that has a 90 percent failure rate before the group even begins the academy?Anthony, Carol, Bill, Gerry, Ed, Dan, and Pete would like to be Suffolk County police officers. They have proven themselves. We owe them a government with the courage to stand up for their rights to a fair and competitive civil service examination.

Lawrence Kelly is a partner in the Stony Brook law firm of Glynn and Mercep.

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